The U of M Showboat players adeptly solve Sherlock's Last Case


In his 1987 evisceration of Sherlock's Last Case, New York Times critic Frank Rich observed that "it's hard to recall a Holmes spin-off that failed, as this one does, in every area." And I'll concur to this extent: Charles Markowitz's story of Watson turning the tables on the famous Baker Street sleuth will never be mistaken for a classic, or even a particularly good play. The U of M Showboat players, however, have no intention of taking this thing seriously, and instead stage the script as a melodramatic farce. The result? The thing just about works. This Holmes (Christopher Kehoe) is a self-satisfied egomaniac and unapologetic asshole. In the opening scene, the lanky Kehoe lounges about in a crimson and gold smoking jacket, gleefully insulting the tremulous Dr. Watson (Stuart Gates) and heaping insults on housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Elizabeth Griffin). When he gets a moment alone, Holmes breaks the tension with some white powder up his nose, an act Kehoe greets with a blissful smile. It's all pretty entertaining, despite the fact that for most of the play the characters just stand around and talk. Soon a letter arrives, ostensibly from the son of Holmes's late nemesis, Moriarty, and a new case begins. Sort of. Suffice it to say that when the housekeeper asks Watson what sort of person could have wronged Holmes so, Gates replies, "Some warped and embittered individual, Mrs. Hudson." And then unleashes a shit-eating grin. Between each scene, we get the traditional Showboat interludes, called Olios, which the student ensemble executes with unflagging enthusiasm and charm. (These numbers also provide an exact measure of how much musical whimsy one can take on any given evening; for my part, I could have done with less.) Overall, though, the Showboaters deserve credit for turning a static and pedestrian text into a genuinely funny piece. The audience is encouraged to boo and hiss as though they were in Victorian times. The play deserves nothing less.